L ast month, more than four dozen Republicans and Democrats turned up for a legislative conference hosted on Capitol Hill by the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin — a flagship moment of sorts before this year's 35th annual convention in Atlantic City. The assembly went well beyond the usual photo-ops and cursory discussions. The driving force behind this was Dr. Sampat Shivangi, a longtime Republican party political activist and fund-raiser, fulfilling his role as AAPI's chairman of legislative affairs.
Shivangi, from Ridgeland, Mississippi, is one of the most plugged in and savvy Indian Americans in the South, who's cultivated governors, senators and members of the House and been a fixture at GOP conventions. He has shown he has no qualms about reaching across the aisle.
It also helped that Shivangi, an AAPI cofounder, has also worn another hat for the past two years as national president of the Indian American Forum for Political Education, the oldest Indian-American political organization. It was established in the early 1908s, at about the same time as AAPI. In that role, Shivangi had hosted IAFPE receptions during both the Republican and Democratic conventions and continued to promote the Indian-American — specifically the Indian-American physician — brand.
At last month's conference and subsequent congressional reception, AAPI was able to zero in on some of its major concerns: residency slots for graduating Indian-American physicians and the green card backlog that continues to worsen as would-be legal immigrants wait decades for permanent resident visas. AAPI also pressed for health insurance to be sold across state lines to make health care coverage more affordable and urged, as well, that hate-crimes legislation be enacted, especially in the wake of recent incidents against Indian-Americans.
AAPI also gave a White Paper to lawmakers and aides as well – even those who did not attend.
This time around, it also helped that three lawmakers in particular were listening: Three-term Rep. Ami Bera of California, himself a physician familiar with AAPI's issues and concerns, and the three other Indian-American Democrats in Congress: Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, and Ro Khanna of California.
Shivangi, chairman of the board for the Department of Mental Health in Mississippi, told India Abroad at the time that the discussions were focused and the next step was AAPI members' thorough followup in the districts to "hold their respective representatives' feet to the fire."
The White Paper noted that even with a substantial increase in medical student admissions across the country, residency slots especially for international medical graduates have remained stagnant and can only get worse, feeding an ongoing physician shortage. The paper said although legislation was introduced in previous sessions of Congress adding 15,000 residency slots and training as many as 45,000 more physicians, it was insufficient.
The paper also noted that the green card backlog has adversely impacted the Indian community, particularly professionals from H-1B skilled workers and physicians who had come to the U.S. on J-1 visas. Thousands of Indian families, the paper noted, have been waiting for decades to immigrate to the U.S. legally under the family reunification provisions of the Immigration Act.
The meeting also discussed medical liability reform with the AAPI members calling on Congress and urging the influential Republicans to convince the Trump administration to enact legislation to this effect. The AMA and AAPI have argued that fewer physicians today practice in areas such as obstetrics and gynecology, surgery and emergency medicine, due to increased lawsuits and increasing malpractice insurance premiums.
AAPI members told the lawmakers that they support federal and state legislation that places effective caps on non-economic damages, limits the use of joint-and-several liability, provides physicians with flexibility to negotiate settlements with medical insurers and further limits the statute of limitations for filing medical malpractice claims.
Legislative affairs is something Shivangi has been passionate about for a long time, "Since I've been involved in politics for decades, here was an area I could make a difference and bring our issues and concerns to the forefront with legislators on both sides of the aisle, whom I worked with and campaigned for them and raised funds for," he said. Shivangi previously served as AAPI secretary, vice president, and president-elect – and has been a governing body member for two decades.
He also knows Washington from the other side: Shivangi had been appointed by President George W. Bush as a special advisor to the Department of Health and Human Services and served in that capacity from 2005-2008.
Legislators are familiar with the AAPI brand, he said, "so what was needed was to be
9ocused in terms of our issues — as we were this time with our White Paper — and bring it to their attention to help alleviate our concerns,"
AAPI's involvement in H-1B visa issues — even outside the medical realm — shows its broad involvement in the communityat-large, he said. That is why, he said, AAPI is working with the Kansas State legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback to promote and pass a hate-crime bill in that state, one that could be named after Srinivas Kuchibhotla, the Indian tech worker shot and killed earlier this year in a Kansas bar.
In January, Shivangi was among the select few Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) to receive the Pravasi Diwas Bharati Samman Award from President Pranab Mukherjee. In 2008, he was one of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor recipients.
AAPI's legislative affairs chair a political veteran